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Sonoma County Gazette

U.S. Takes Small Role at
COP23 in Bonn, Germany

Nov 22, 2017
by Tish Levee


“And then there were none!” I would love to write that, but right now I can only write, “And then there was one.” And that one is the US, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases emissions (per capita the first), which last June said it would pull out of the COP23. Two years ago, when 195 nations pledged to reduce global warming and climate change, two others didn’t sign the agreement: Syria, in the midst of a civil war, and Nicaragua, on target to be 90% renewable by 2020, which felt the agreement didn’t go far enough. Recently, both of them agreed to the Paris Accords, so now there is only one, the US.

Fortunately, the current administration doesn’t speak for all the American people. City mayors, state governors, business leaders, academics, and just plain folk like us, responded to the announced pullout by joining the “We’re Still In” campaign, agreeing to abide by the Paris agreement and go even further. Leaders of many other countries concurred.

What happened to US leadership? The official US presence at COP23, the Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany, is almost invisible. Located in a small, often seemingly unoccupied locked room, it has no pavilion, though itappears the US delegates were present at at least [italics mine] some of the many meetings taking place.

The US’s sole official side event, a panel discussion originally promoting clean energy, was changed to “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.”

America’s Pledge – an alternative US delegation at Bonn. There’s a huge alternative US Climate Action Center, representing America’s Pledge –more than 20 states, the 50 largest cities, and 60 businesses, collectively having an economic power of about $10 trillion, making them the equivalent of the worlds’ third largest economy. Gov. Jerry Brown and former NY Mayor, Michael Bloomberglaunched America’s Pledge’s in July.

Vulnerable countries leading for the first time. Up to 25,000 people will attend the summit, presided over by Fiji’s Prime Minister Voreqe “Frank” Bainimarama – the first time a small island nation is at the helm of a major international climate conference. As Fiji, already suffering the impacts of global warming, cannot logistically host the conference there, it’s being held in Germany, the home of the UN Climate Agency.

“The need for urgency is obvious,” Bainimarama told the conference. “Our world is in distress from the extreme weather events caused by climate change….The only way for every nation to put itself first is to lock arms with all other nations and move forward together.”

Diplomats, scientists, environmentalists, and lobbyists are dealing with the nitty-gritty details of how to implement the Paris Accords, fleshing out the rules by which countries must abide to make sure that the Paris pledges can actually keep global temperatures from rising 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100. Paris set a goal of 1.5°, at the most 2°. Even 2° will mean that we’ll live in a significantly different world. What is truly worrying is the evidence that we are actually headed for a 3° or 4° warmer world in this century! (One degree Celsius in equivalent to 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.)

It’s not really a choice between the environment and the economy. The economy is suffering because of what we’ve done to the environment. Higher CO2 levels exacerbates “natural disasters”, including the recent fires here in Sonoma County. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the US government spent an estimated $350 billion over the past decade responding to extreme weather and fire events, not including the money for this year’s hurricanes and fires. As measured by NOAA at Hawaii’s Mauana Loa Observatory, CO2 was 404.72 parts per million (ppm) on Nov. 12th, up from 402.21ppm last Nov. 12 (350 ppm is the safe level). The last time carbon dioxide was this high – three to five million years ago – sea levels were 66 feet higher than now.

What do we do? We need to end all fossil fuel emissions – “Keep it in the Ground.” We also have to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere – see Paul Hawkens’ excellent book,Drawdownfor how. We have the tools we need, what we need now is the will to make it work.

© Copyright Tish Levee, 2017


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